Chapter 21: Just Like That
We laze on the lake house’s porch swing the next evening, taking in the mesmerizing colors of magenta and cerulean blue that make up the sunset, right through to when the stars shine bright and the lake water glistens under the moonlight. We just sit there, never saying anything, serene with the gentle sounds of the night and the logs in the fire pit crackling. I shuffle to lay my head on Christian’s lap and soak up the scenery then drown in my mind.
My thoughts swirl violently, a whirlwind of unnecessary things that kind of scare me like: a mosquito bite could lead to malaria or elephantiasis in which you could die then when you’re in the ground, maggots will start to grow out of you and what if when you die you’re still awake?
Questions like: What if someone made up religion as a way to control the masses with the hope of an after? Which doesn’t even apply to my atheist self, but what if there really is no after of some form? And if we were made from stardust, how exactly in the fuck were we made? How did stardust make humans? How did humans make Dom?
“You need to stop thinking so much,” Christian says. Being pulled out of my mind feels like I’ve exited one universe and entered a whole other. He intertwines his fingers with mine and gently squeezes my hand as if I have zero capability of pulling myself out of a hurricane.
“I can’t just alter myself to fit what you want,” I blurt out.
“What do you mean?”
“You can’t just tell me to stop thinking. A, it doesn’t work like that. B, you’re not my only focal point.”
He sighs. “I don’t like when you get like this.”
“Get like what?” I shrug away his hand and sit up, facing him.
“Like... introverted. Sometimes you’re in your head so much it’s like nobody else exists.”
He’s right. But it’s better that way, isn’t it? If nobody else exists, neither does the possibility of you getting hurt. Wrong. The one person who can hurt you the most is right here. It’s you. You mean you. I mean us.
“You’re doing it again,” he says, inhaling deeply before he carries on, “Sometimes it gets hard to be patient with you, waiting for you to be present.”
I flinch, then say defensively, “That’s your issue,” avoiding his eyes. I don’t think he’s trying to hurt me - though what if that’s the plan all along? - but I’m hurt.
“I feel like I’m losing you, okay?” he admits. “The worst thing is, it’s not to some random guy I can just fight, and probably lose to ’cause I don’t do fights but that’s beside the point... I’m losing you to you.” For him to bring up something like that is a stab right in the gut, because he feels that way and there’s nothing I can do about it, he knows that. “I sorta feel like I’m second place, you know? What do I do?”
“Nothing,” I say. “This is what you get being with me, you knew that making the decision to.”
His leg starts to bounce impatiently. “Have you ever asked your family how they feel when they spend time with you?”
I take a moment. “What?”
“'Cause I bet they feel like everybody else in your life and that’s shut out and cast off and they’re your family. I don’t even scrape that and you’re right here - right fucking here - and I feel like I can’t reach you let alone touch you.”
I finally look him in his eyes, daring him to keep talking, daring him to say something that will force me to go back to when it was just me and myself where getting hurt by someone else didn’t exist.
I haven’t done this before. I had crushes in high school, and a first, second, third and fourth kiss with a guy named Jerome - who, last time I checked, was straight but was the starting point for my I think I’m gay thoughts - but I’ve never been with anyone before. I’ve never had to be in this position.
What does Chrisitan want me to say? How does he expect someone like me to deal with feelings and do it right?
Getting up and escaping seems much better than talking this through, but he only follows me inside, calling after me. I bury my attention in making a coffee and staring at the clock on the wall as I do. The time starts to bug me. I want to rip the batteries out. Stop time. Move the hands back even if it’s only by ten minutes. Do those ten minutes differently. Avoid this.
You could have avoided everything but you didn’t listen to me.
“Tommy.” I feel Christian’s hand on my shoulder.
“What?” I turn around.
“I’m sorry for what I said.”
“No, you’re just sorry it pissed me off and you’re still second place to my mental issues.”
“If you don’t like being second place, I can end this,” I motioned between us, “for you.”
“Just like that?” he asks, and I don’t think he’s gotten the true gravity of what it’s like to be with someone like me, and how not being with him is much better for me even if I like him, so I tell him. Break the ice. Make him grow up and see the truth.
“You and everyone out there - including my family as shitty as this is - feeling shut out and cast off who expect me to fight an entire world just to pay attention to yours: You all need to wake up. This isn’t the fucking movies. My world won’t stop just to pay attention to yours. My world won’t even stop to jump in front of a car for you, or for Gemma, or even for my own family, because my first thought won’t be to save you, it will be I can’t die without burning all my shit ’cause I don’t want anyone to know all my secrets, even if I don’t have any. This is what anxiety looks like. It’s selfish, it’s fucked up, I’m selfish, I’m fucked up, so fuck, if you really don’t like when I get like this, then yeah... Just like that.”
Christian goes quiet and stays quiet, never questioning how weird I’m being taking down that clock, ripping those batteries out, and stopping time. Before I can move the hands and do those ten minutes differently, that’s when I notice it, the round black circle in the center of the clock.
“Is that a-”
“Yeah,” he cuts me off, taking the clock. I catch the fear that flashes in his eyes for a split second. “We got broken into and robbed not too long ago... People think, hey look, there’s a nice lake house, let’s just rob the damn place, hence hidden security camera, in a clock... I bought it and put it up in the kitchen because they, um, stole the coffee machine...”
But that’s a lie, a laughably atrocious lie because he said he’d never been here before. There’s probably other stuff he’s lying about too. The thoughts immediately start to thunder in and I feel the attack coming on. I don’t want to be here anymore.
“Can we go back to college? I want to go. I’m going.”
He sighs but never questions my decision or tries to get me to stay for the one day more we were meant to be here for.
“Yeah. We can go.”
When we get back to college, Tommy gets out of my car, grabs his stuff, and leaves without a word. I want to say goodnight and sweet dreams and give him a hug and feel the world of emotions for him as I do, but I have to let him go.
I know he knows the clock situation was a lie.
At the frat house, everywhere is overflowing with people, a typical Saturday night, but there are three times as many people as there usually are at our parties. I bump into someone I’ve never spoken to in my life, she tells me this party’s actually a bonfire which I never knew about, leaving me thinking about when I became so antisocial and not up-to-date with fraternity events.
With each body I barge past, I feel resentment thriving inside me. By the time I reach out back and spot him, I’m a seething mess amid the drunk and purposeless people at this bonfire. I drag all my fury right up to the bane of my existence.
“What the fuck?” I shove Dom, regardless of my inability to win a fight because I hate inflicting pain. Though, getting ready to fight him now, I could stand a chance with all this hate.
He holds his hands up in surrender, a lopsided grin on his face that would have me digging knives into my eyes and carving them out if I didn’t need my vision.
“What do you want from me?” he says.
“A fucking hidden camera?” I snap.
Doing this in front of everyone is risky, but I’m all for the bloody nose and cut knuckles at this point. He’s singlehandedly fucked up the deal and that would’ve been perfect if I had no feelings and didn’t want Tommy to talk to me again.
“Come on, man, it’s my fucking birthday.” Dom grabs a bottle out of one of his girls’ hand, showers it on his face, wastes half of what he empties out on his clothes, the grass and on the boobs of the same girl who gave him the bottle. I don’t see what she sees in him but she’s making heart eyes for a fucking psychopath.
My fists ball up to porcelain white as a crowd gathers, smoking their pot, drinking their alcohol, wasting their lives, about to watch a fight at a bonfire meant to celebrate the birthday of a person the world would be better off without.
“I’m done with your shit,” I say.
He offers the nearly empty bottle to me, slams it to my chest as the grin wipes off his face. He slaps a hand down on my shoulder and steps closer to say - just shy of people hearing - “You know what will happen.”
There it is again. The trap.
The uncontrollable rage I carry pools over. One look at him when he steps back and I drive my fist to his jaw. He stumbles back, takes the crowd’s crazy as a motive to go all out. Before I know it, I got that bloody nose and cut knuckles. And I lose. I never stood a chance with his followers so stuck up his ass.
When I’m coughing on the ground and he’s told the crowd to “fuck off” back to the bonfire, he crouches down beside me, lighting a joint, and inhales to exhale the smoke on my face.
“What’re you gonna do now?” he asks, smiling again. “Be done with my ‘shit’? I’ll only tell them about you and Carpenter. You gonna lie about that?”
I go to say something, anything, and nothing all at once. He laughs at me...mocks me like I’m a joke.
I’m the good laugh of the entire deal.
“Nah, didn’t think so. Camera footage. No one would believe you anyway. I’ve been here too long. You’re just a freshman.”
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, LishaWrite a Review